46 years later, NDSU seeks answers to mysterious art theft

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The artwork, a lithograph titled “Woman Sitting at a Table” by artist Richard Diebenkorn, is now estimated at around $ 12,000. The director of the gallery, an artist by training, has turned into an amateur detective, redoubling his efforts to discover the truth.

He has set up an exhibit on the crime not far from where the item was caught and invites everyone to join in the investigation. Was it a sophisticated art theft or the result of some silly college prank?

A reproduction of Richard Diebenkorn’s 1975 lithograph is on display Friday, October 29, 2021 at the Memorial Union Gallery at North Dakota State University, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

College shenanigans?

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By early May 1975, the NDSU may have been ripe for some shenanigans. It was a stressful spring according to many accounts. The fall of Saigon, marking the end of the Vietnam War, had occurred just two weeks earlier, and the economy was still in recession, which meant uncertain job prospects for new college graduates. Add to that the stress of the final exams and many North Dakota State University students were probably ready to let off some steam.

For some, it was the Spring Blast All-Nighter.

“The Spring Blast was a multi-day event where the union was open 24 hours a day,” gallery coordinator Anthony Faris said. “There was a night in Las Vegas, music, movies, massages. They did it every year.

It was not until 1975 that something else happened. Between May 9 and May 15, a work of art, the Diebenkorn, was stolen from a student lounge. In the 1970s, Faris said, the school wanted works of art to be appreciated by students. The pieces were therefore placed where the students could see them regularly rather than in a gallery.

“We still have a problem today, where you want the artwork in the safe, which belongs to all the students, to be accessible to them, and that’s why we have an annual exhibition,” said Faris, “And we’ve done things like the virtual reality program to give people access to all of the works in our collection.

Today the works are locked up and under the watchful eye of cameras, but that was not the case in ’75. School art, much of which hung in boardrooms and living rooms, was an easier target.

In the initial note regarding the theft of the painting, the artist was misidentified.  Submitted photo

In the initial note regarding the theft of the painting, the artist was misidentified. Submitted photo

A flight diagram

This is not the only time that a painting has disappeared from the union. The year before, in 1974, a work by Robert Nelson had been cut. The year after Diebenkorn’s theft in 1975, a print by Nelson was stolen. In 1983, a work titled “January” by Gordon Mortensen was stolen.

“I think in the 70s it was a little more common because I found a story of stolen bikes, of dormitory mirrors taken away. They say it was pranks happening back then, ”Faris said.

He was in contact with the elders’ center to see if officials could contact anyone who might have attended the NDSU in 1975 to see if they had seen or heard anything.

He uncovered a few clues, including a classified ad that appeared in the NDSU Spectrum newspaper right after the crime, where someone thanked a certain fraternity on campus for “robbing us the other night.” It was so inspiring ”,

“It probably doesn’t mean anything, but that’s the question when you’re investigating something,” Faris said. “It was in the Spectrum less than a week after the flight. And there’s the word ‘fly’. Does that mean anything?”

Gallery director Anthony Faris pulls an Andy Warhol print from storage on Friday, October 29, 2021 at the Memorial Union Gallery at North Dakota State University, Fargo.  Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Gallery director Anthony Faris pulls an Andy Warhol print from storage on Friday, October 29, 2021 at the Memorial Union Gallery at North Dakota State University, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Faris says he doesn’t think there was a “bad sense” with the theft where the thieves intended to sell the artwork for a profit. In fact, after it was stolen and everyone had a good laugh, the culprits might not have known what to do with it.

“Giving something back is difficult, especially after it’s been taken, isn’t it?” That’s why we want to have this conversation again, “he said.” It’s part of the memory of someone from that time. Maybe someone’s ready to talk about it. “

Faris and NDSU even said whoever has the part can return the job, no questions asked.

“Forty six years, we have this piece that exists somewhere. It’s an object in someone’s house, someone’s basement somewhere, and someone knows where it’s been. And we would just like it returned to the students, ”Faris said. “It’s not necessarily about his worth, or even where he’s been, as much as it’s part of our history. It is part of our history.

For more information

What: Exhibition “Cold Case: The week Richard disappeared”

When: 19 Oct-Nov 4

Or: NDSU Memorial Union

Home: November 2, 5 to 7 p.m. with a talk by Susan McCombs (formerly Madigan) – gallery coordinator in 1975.

If you have any intraining on the missing artwork, please contact the Memorial Union Gallery phone line at 701-231-8239 or [email protected]


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